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School cuts finished

July 09, 2003|by PEPPER BALLARD

pepperb@herald-mail.com

In an effort to keep budget cuts from affecting students in Washington County Public Schools, 23 positions, most in areas outside the classroom, were eliminated in a final fiscal reorganization that will save the school system about $2.5 million, Schools Superintendent Elizabeth Morgan said.

Of the 23 positions cut, five were clerical, three were central office resource teacher posts, two were school media specialist jobs, one was a principal position, three were central office staff jobs and 18 were the posts of Title I instructional assistants, who were replaced in those schools by nine teachers.

"I've been told there have never been this many cuts," Morgan said.

Morgan said cutting nine positions in the last fiscal year and cutting 23 positions this fiscal year has made the school system as efficient as possible.

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"We've spent two years of cutting and holding the classroom harmless," she said. "Any more cuts will affect the classroom. Any further cuts and we wouldn't be able to compensate our teachers appropriately."

Morgan said one of her top priorities is to make sure teachers receive sufficient pay.

She said the decision to make this fiscal year's cuts, which range from decreasing the number of instructional assistants in some schools to eliminating and combining some central office positions, was based primarily on the school system's commitment to maintaining the student to teacher ratio, which has been at 20:1 for about four years.

The Washington County Board of Education could have saved $1 million by raising class size by one student across the system. But Morgan said that in light of the academic mandates set by the federal No Child Left Behind act, keeping class sizes small will give students a better opportunity to excel on standardized tests.

The federal act is designed to close the achievement gap between schools and to make sure all students, including disadvantaged groups, are academically proficient.

Efficiency was another priority set by the School Board, which cut positions that duplicated others and increased responsibilities for some of the remaining positions, she said.

Morgan asked that critics of the School Board's budget decisions look at the positions that have been kept versus those that have been cut.

"I understand why (people) would be critics of this. It's not a happy time ... the decisions have been logical," she said.

Nine kindergarten teacher positions were added to start the phase-in of the state mandated all-day kindergarten, and many at-risk student tutoring programs designed to help students with reading and math were retained, she said.

Nine Student Achievement Specialists, whose job is to tutor children and mentor their teachers, were placed in Title I schools in place of 18 Title I instructional assistants.

Title I schools are those with the highest poverty rates and receive additional state and federal funds.

Patricia Abernethy, the school system's deputy superintendent of instruction, said many students attending Title I schools need extra help and certified teachers are a better match for those at-risk students than instructional assistants, who often don't have the credentials to teach.

Morgan said many of the people who were in positions that were eliminated have found jobs elsewhere in the school system.

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